Airport plan to proceed with property appraisals

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 9/20/00.

At its monthly meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 13, the airport commission approved proceeding with property appraisals for the current airport proposal.

The appraisals will be done by the engineering firm Short Elliott Hendrickson, which is the city's engineer and has been working on the airport project. The appraisals are the first step in land acquisition.

The approval of appraisals was done after most of the meeting was used to discuss issues of concern with neighboring property owners. Many of these concerns had been aired before, and the crux of the disagreement is a difference of opinion about where the prime spot for an airport should be versus what the most beneficial use of the land next to the city should be.

Critics of the current plan continue to argue that the land west of the city, and just west of the present airport site, is prime land for development. They feel that the airport could easily move to a location further from the city limits.

The main benefit in having the airport near the city is it being close to the attractions of the area. Commission member Steve Whitcomb explained that pilots fly to save time and want the things they might use to be close.

Visiting pilots could fly to town for tournaments at school, golf outings, or just for a meal. One goal of a new airport is to have it included in the state charts, which is like being listed on a map. Currently, the airport is not listed because it is too small and has safety concerns, with obstacles at the end of both runways.

Pat Meagher, a neighbor of the current airport who owns land that would need to be purchased for the proposed strip, didn't think pilots would be willing to walk from the new hangars, which would be further away, to town. Whitcomb disagreed, citing conversation from pilots as well as a survey conducted a few years ago.

Meagher was not convinced, saying, "I don't know if we should spend that much money to get a few people to come to the Dairy Queen."

Following a public hearing on zoning last month, and the airing of these concerns with the present proposal, the airport commission has investigated other airport sites.

So far, they have identified a site north of Hawick as a possibility, and another north of Paynesville. The first would be in Roseville Township, which could be problematic, and the second has the old railroad, now a state trail, running at an angle that would intersect with the air strip, a considerable obstacle, according to commission members Dave Peschong and Whitcomb.

Moving the airport slightly west runs into trouble with power lines. One is located on the county line, and a taller transmission line is located a mile west.

"We haven't found an alternative site that the committee is comfortable with," said Peschong at the meeting.

Going forward with the appraisals was not intended to be the final site decision. Learning the estimated costs of acquiring the property needed for a new airstrip and hangar facility will be used to gauge if the present site is feasible. Right now, the airport construction budget includes $950 per acre for land acquisition.

Paynesville Township resident Mike Meagher - who has lobbied the township and the airport commission to move the strip away from the city of Paynesville - told the commission that the land would cost more to purchase. Meagher is also a local realtor.

Another realtor, Pat Flanders, was present to hear learn about the zoning restrictions, and to discuss the school property. Flanders is also chairman of the school board. One end of the proposed airstrip would point in the direction of the driving range at the golf course, which is land owned by the school district and leased to the golf course.

Flanders told the commission that this land, along with the adjacent corn field, was originally purchased as a potential school site. A new school is not likely in the near future, but Flanders was concerned about future restrictions. This land appears to be in Zone B, where shools would be prohibited.

A more likely use for that area would be as more practice fields, which would seem to be allowable. A game field, where a crowd would gather, might not.

Commission member Bert Stanley was worried that approaching the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) with a site change should not be done lightly. Paynesville has attempted to build a new airport in the past, and MnDOT has given the community one more chance to complete the project.

If the appraisals should make the current site too expensive, that might be a better justification to convince MnDOT that an alternate site was necessary, Stanley thought.

The commission also discussed holding a special hearing at a different time to meet with the citizens who have concerns about the current proposal. But they could not find a date that would work in September.

Right now, commission meetings are held at 5 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month. The council meeting starts at 6 p.m., limiting the time for discussion.

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